Barney Kessel / Barney Kessel Plays Carmen (Stereo) – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

This original Black Label Contemporary stereo LP has a STUNNING side two! Barney Kessel Plays Carmen is one of our favorite jazz guitar recordings of all time, and on a copy like this the sound is absolutely KILLER. 

Side Two

White Hot! Clean and clear with great energy and punchy drums. Less compressor distortion, a much bigger stage, and plenty of room around the drums, this is the sound you just never hear on this album.

The horns were the best we heard on any side two — more “real”, full-bodied, and never hard or edgy (which they often are).

Fuller on the piano, and more present, with real top end extension, this is exactly the way this music should sound.

Side One

Good space, clarity and immediacy are this side’s high points. Flip it over to side two to hear what the best copy in our shootout sounds like. (It should blow your mind.)

Good Idea

Such a wonderful idea for an album. The melodies from Bizet’s Carmen are unforgettable and perfect fodder for jazz improvisation. Don’t think that this is just guitar and rhythm. This is a full band with lots of horns, clarinets of all kinds, bassoons, oboes, flutes, piano, vibes — the variety of sounds to be found on this album is practically unlimited. And with Roy DuNann’s engineering, you will never hear richer, fuller sound with more accurate timbres for all the instruments mentioned above. The guy was a genius. His recordings define High Fidelity for me. I know of none better.

(I had the OJC pressing of this record years ago and couldn’t get in to the music. The OJC’s tend to be on the thin side and it killed my enjoyment of this album.)

The Sound We Love

For those of you who appreciate the sound that Roy DuNann (and Howard Holzer on other sessions) were able to achieve in the ’50s at Contemporary Records, this LP is a Must-Own (unless you already have it, which is doubtful considering how hard it is to find a copy in clean condition). Their stuff just doesn’t get any better than this. Tubey magic, richness, sweetness, dead-on timbres from top to bottom — this is a textbook example of Contemporary sound at its best.

From an audiophile point of view, how can you beat a Roy DuNann recording of so many instruments? It’s audiophile heaven. The sound is gorgeous — all tube, live-to-two-track, direct from the Contemporary studio to you, on glorious un-remastered analog vinyl.

Talk About Timbre

Man, when you play a Hot Stamper copy of an amazing recording such as this, the timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off. To paraphrase The Hollies, you get paid back with interest. If you hear anything funny in the mids and highs of this record, don’t blame the record. (This is the kind of record that shows up audiophile BS equipment for what it is: Audiophile BS. If you are checking for richness, tubey-magic and freedom from artificiality, I can’t think of a better test disc. It has loads of the first two and none of the last.)

Two of the best sounding jazz guitar records in the history of the world were made by Barney Kessel for Contemporary: this one, and Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By. I used to have them both in my personal collection (but they have since gone to good homes).

Instruments Used on This Album

Alto Flute
Bass Clarinet

And because the record is so well recorded, and this pressing is so transparent, you can hear them all!


Side One

Swingin’ the Toreador
A Pad on the Edge of Town
If You Dig Me
Free as a Bird

Side Two

Viva el Toro!
Carmen’s Cool
Like, There’s No Place Like…
The Gypsy’s Hip

AMG Review

During an era when many Broadway and movie scores were recorded in jazz settings (thanks in part to the success of Shelly Manne’s best-selling My Fair Lady album), guitarist Barney Kessel chose to interpret nine melodies from Bizet’s opera Carmen. The guitarist is heard in three different settings: joined by five woodwinds and a rhythm section; with five jazz horns (including altoist Herb Geller and trumpeter Ray Linn) and a trio; and with vibraphonist Victor Feldman in a quintet. Kessel also wrote the arrangements, which pay tribute to the melodies while not being shy of swinging the themes.

Stereo Editorial

Some stereos can just bore you to tears with their dead-as-a-doornail sound and freedom from dynamic contrasts.

Other stereos are overly-detailed and fatiguing; they wear out their welcome pretty quickly with their hyped-up extremes.

As Goldilocks will gladly tell you, some stereos are just right; they have the uncanny ability to get out of the way of the music. Some equipment doesn’t call attention to itself, and that tends to be the kind of equipment we prefer around here at Better Records.

After forty years in this hobby I’ve had my share of both. 90+% of the stuff I hear around town makes me appreciate what I have at home. No doubt you feel the same way.